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India's anticorruption hero Anna Hazare leaves jail, rallies supporters (video)

The Indian activist who has been leading protests for tougher anticorruption measures left jail today to begin a public hunger strike.

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Veteran Indian social activist Anna Hazare waves from a vehicle after he leaves Tihar jail in New Delhi Friday. A vast and jubilant crowd cheered as the Gandhian activist walked out of the jail to carry on a hunger strike in public, the latest act in a drama of popular fury over corruption that has put India's government in a bind.

Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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Boys climbed trees for a view. Vendors handed out sweets for free. Students cut classes to see history. And when their anticorruption hero Anna Hazare emerged from jail today, cheers went up by the thousands.

Mr. Hazare, the Indian activist who was arrested Tuesday for defying protest restrictions, addressed the crowd. The loudspeaker failed, then the skies dumped monsoon showers. But it didn’t really matter. Most have already absorbed his message: No one should be above account from a corruption watchdog bill.

Under a deal struck with police, Hazare left the prison and set up a public fast at Ramlila fairgrounds in the center of the city. The grounds can hold tens of thousands of people. Several thousands showed up Friday afternoon, braving rain that turned much of the area in to massive puddles and streams of mud.

“What I like about [Hazare’s bill] is anybody who is corrupt can be complained against, from the prime minister down,” says Kusum Nayar, a local woman. “It is better for the common man.”

Hazare’s movement appears to be cutting across many of the traditional divisions of class, caste, and party by picking a fight against politicians on behalf of everyone else – the aam admi, or common man. Beyond frustration with corruption, Hazare has tapped into a deep vein of frustration with the quality of Indian office-holders and the privileges they enjoy.

“Our leaders are mostly corrupt,” says Ms. Nayar, who nevertheless has voted all her life. “Educated and honest people are not getting into politics, so we don’t have an option” at the polls.

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